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Iraq seeks to buy 36 F-16 fighters from U.S.: report

The F-16, made by Lockheed Martin Corp, in an undated photo. The Iraqi government is seeking to buy 36 advanced F-16 fighters from the U.S., American military officials familiar with the request told the Wall Street Journal. REUTERS/Lockheed Martin Corp/Handout

(Reuters) - The Iraqi government is seeking to buy 36 advanced F-16 fighters from the U.S., American military officials familiar with the request told the Wall Street Journal.

This move could help Iraq reduce its reliance on U.S. air power and potentially allow more American forces to withdraw from the country than had been proposed.

The F-16, made by Lockheed Martin Corp, is the most sophisticated weapons system Iraq has attempted to purchase so far.

Late in July, the U.S. Department of Defense had approved up to $10.7 billion in arms sales for Iraq, including a $2.16 billion sale of M1A1 Abrams tanks built by General Dynamics Corp.

The U.S. recently announced F-16 sales to Morocco and Romania. Those sales, each for roughly $100 million per plane with training, related equipment and support included, offer an indication of how lucrative the Iraq deal could be for Lockheed Martin and its suppliers.

Iraq now appears determined to significantly expand the air power of its military, which has become more competent and confident in recent months but depends heavily on the U.S. for air support.

Iraq quickly has become one of the biggest weapons buyers in the world as it seeks to strengthen and professionalise its fighting force.

No one was available at the U.S. Department of Defense for comment.

Reporting by Sweta Singh in Bangalore, editing by Will Waterman

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